One thing that you may always wonder quietly or out loud when going to any of the coastal beaches is that you wonder if there are any sharks? From all the first JAWS movie, the many shark movies on SYFY channel, the periodic news you see where somebody was attacked by a shark while at the beach, swimming, or surfing.
Most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the shore mainly around popular beaches in North America (especially Florida and Hawaii), Australia, and South Africa.
Shark Attack Facts
“If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” This is one of the rules that applies to wild animals. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), the most common type of shark attack is a provoked attack, where sharks become aggressive when disturbed or approached when, for example, divers go near their hangouts or try to grab them.
However, unprovoked shark attacks also occur. So why do they attack even when humans aren’t doing anything?
Some researchers think that sharks may have acquired a taste for humans after having repeatedly consumed human flesh, meaning they consider humans as prey and deliberately go after us. More scientists, however, believe that unprovoked shark attacks are cases of mistaken identity, where sharks mistake humans for their regular prey, either because of our actions in the water or our appearance. This explains why most shark attacks are catch-and-release or hit-and-run. The shark attacks, grabs a bite and then, realizing its mistake, leaves. Unfortunately, shark teeth are so large and powerful that one bite is often enough to result in death.
Yes, sharks do attack humans, but of over the 480 species of sharks known to humans, only thirty-four of these have been implicated in unprovoked shark attacks since 1580. Of these, only twelve have killed humans and only three species have victims that figure in the double digits. Combined, these three species accounts for more than 85% of all the recorded fatal unprovoked attacks throughout history. They are the great white shark, the bull shark and the tiger shark.
The bull shark is dangerous because it likes to live in shallow waters, both saltwater and freshwater, and therefore often comes in contact with humans.
The tiger shark is responsible for a higher number of total unprovoked attacks than bull sharks — 101. However, the bull shark has a higher record of fatalities — twenty-eight compared to the tiger shark’s twenty-six.
The tiger shark is dangerous because of its voracious appetite. In fact, the tiger shark is considered the “garbage collector” of the ocean, because it eats just about anything. Even rats, cats and horses have been found in the stomachs of tiger sharks, along with tires and license plates! Because of this, tiger sharks do not always swim away after one bite from a human but stay to finish the meal. Not a very comforting thought, is it?
The great white shark alone is responsible for a third of all known shark attacks, with a total of 279, seventy-eight of which were fatal.
The great white shark can grow over 20 feet (6.1 meters) long and weigh over 7000 pounds (3175 kilograms). It is a fierce predator, eating other sharks, dolphins, small whales, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, sea otters and seabirds. It hunts using its keen sense of smell, able to detect even just a single drop of blood in ten billion drops of water! It also hunts by detecting electric signals using a special organ, called the ampullae of Lorenzini.
What makes the great white shark so dangerous? It’s because it is such an excellent hunter and because of the size of its teeth. While the bull shark is known to have a more powerful bite force, great white sharks have three hundred razor-sharp teeth arranged in seven rows, each about 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) long.
Still, scientists insist that great white sharks are simply “sample biting” and are not out to get you. If you can get away after the first bite, then you can survive, even if it is at the cost of an arm or a leg.
Indeed, the great white shark is a terrifying creature and its record speaks for itself. However, some scientists believe that there is an even deadlier shark — the oceanic whitetip shark. It may have only ten recorded attacks to its name, but it is known to go after victims from sunken ships and crashed planes, going into a fearless feeding frenzy until there is no prey left. No survivors. No witnesses. No records.
Most Shark Infested Beaches
Coffin Bay, Australia
There were 14 shark attacks in Australia, one of which was fatal, in 2010, down from 21 in 2009. Although shark attacks happen all over in Australia, one of the most recent fatalities occurred in the waters off Coffin Bay, in south Australia. The numbers seem to be on pace for 2011. One of the most recent attacks occurred in February, when 49-year-old abalone diver Peter Clarkson was attacked by two great white sharks while fishing about 15 miles off the coast. His body was not recovered.
Surf Beach, north of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Shark attacks are relatively common in the waters off northern California, but one attack in central California in 2010 drew a lot of attention. Nineteen-year-old surfer Luke Ransom was catching large waves in the waters off Vandenberg Air Force base near Santa Barbara, when he was attacked by an 18-foot great white. The surfer did not get back to shore in time and bled to death.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
There were 13 unprovoked shark attacks – one fatal – in Florida in 2010, statistically the most likely place in the world to get bitten by a shark. That likelihood shows no sign of abating this year. In addition to an attack on dive instructor Daniel Webb on June 12, the most recent attack was on a 19-year-old swimmer in New Smyrna Beach on June 6, the third person this year to get bitten by a shark in part of the so-called “red triangle.”
Topsail Island, North Carolina
North Carolina has had a moderate amount of shark attacks in the past decade, including five last year, up from one the year before. One of those victims was Carley Schlentz, a 13-year-old girl from Greensboro, N.C., who was attacked near Topsail Island. She was bitten twice before she made it out of the water and required 60 stitches to close the wounds.
Fripp Island, S.C.
Shark attacks are relatively rare in East Coast waters north of Florida, and in South Carolina particularly, but last year the state was the site of four attacks, all of which were non-fatal. One of those sharks attacked six-year-old Ella Morris, who was playing on a boogie board with her father when a shark bit into Ella’s leg and dragged her underwater. Ella’s father chased the shark away with the board and ran ashore to a nearby firehouse for help. Ella’s wound required 22 stitches, but she survived the attack.
Fish Hoek Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
The waters off Cape Town, South Africa are known for the frequency of shark encounters (there were eight attacks last year, two resulting in death) but one attack last year was different in that it was the first attack to be tweeted moments after it happened. A vacationer from Zimbabwe, Lloyd Skinner, was standing in chest-deep water near Fish Hoek Beach when he was attacked by a large great white shark that witnesses described as “longer than a minibus.” His diving goggles and a patch of blood were all that remained in the water.
Lyman Beach, Kona, Hawaii
Hawaii is also one of the world’s hotspots for shark encounters. The islands were the location of four unprovoked attacks last year and a few this year as well. Two of those attacks occurred within three days of each other in the waters near Lyman Beach in Kona, the first recorded attacks in that part of the big island. Theresa Fernandez was surfing in the waters off Kona when she felt something hard hit the bottom of her board. When the rear of her surfboard was pulled under the water, she paddled furiously to get away from what she knew was a shark. Luckily, Fernandez and another surfer, Alayna DeBina, both escaped their encounters without injury.
Not usually known for shark attacks, the waters off Cancun were the site of a couple of non-fatal attacks this year. A Russian tourist ignored warnings not to go in the water and suffered an 8-inch bite. Canadian Nicole Moore lost her arm in January after she waded into waist-deep water to wash sand off following a game of volleyball. “Having shark attacks is sort of a sign that you’ve arrived as a large tourist destination, says Burgess. “You get enough people in the water, you’re going to make the list.”
Follet’s Island, Texas
Shark attacks aren’t very common in the waters off Texas – there was just one attack in 2010, and one this year – and when they do happen, they tend to happen to fisherman who get the sharks in their lines and try to get them off. College student Kori Robertson, 22, was one of the unlucky ones when she was bitten this past May as she was wading in waist-deep water off the coast of Follet’s Island. Robertson suffered two bites before she and a friend she was swimming with ran toward the shore. An aquarium curator at the Houston Zoo said such attacks were relatively infrequent in the area.
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Not usually known for its shark activity, the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh were in the news last year when a series of shark attacks hit tourists at the popular Egyptian Red Sea resort area. Six people were attacked there, including one fatally, as part of a rash of attacks in 2010. An elderly German woman was bitten on her arm and thighs, and later succumbed to her wounds. A marine photographer later released a photo of his encounter with the shark that is believed to have killed her.
This is only a few
10 Tips for Avoiding Shark Bites:
Do not swim at dusk, dawn or night. Sharks are most active during these times.
Avoid murky or unclean water. Sharks will be more likely to mistake you for prey and you will be less likely to see it coming.
Do not swim, dive or surf alone. Sharks are more likely to bite a single person. Also swim near a lifeguard so help is nearby, should you need it.
Avoid excessive splashing and bringing pets in the water. Erratic movements portray distress and can attract sharks.
Do not enter the water if you are bleeding, do not bring dead or bleeding fish into the water and avoid areas where fishing is occurring. Sharks have great senses and can detect the slightest hint of blood.
Do not wear jewelry or shiny bathing suits. Glistening light looks like fish scales to a shark’s eye.
Avoid wearing brightly colored suits or having an uneven tan line. Sharks see contrast well.
If in an area with a lot of sharks, try to remain vertical. This prevents you from looking like a seal and other larger prey.
Stay close to shore and avoid going near steep drop-offs and channel openings. Prey species and sharks congregate in these locations.
Remember that when entering the ocean, you are entering the shark’s environment and these wild animals must be treated with caution.
Beach activities with higher fatality rates than shark attacks:
Getting hit in the head by a coconut
Driving to the beach
Injuries/Fatalities from surfing
Does all this mean be paranoid when going to the beach? Absolutely not! Be aware and have respect in some beach locations. Check on beach you are going to if there have been any reported sharks. If there has been, it would be safer to go where they are lifeguards as they are always on look out and will keep you informed.